To this day, I remember the first words I uttered after watching the then newly released Bond movie Skyfall. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the film. I enjoyed every explosion-laden minute of it. For my taste though, everything was a little too cute; the film tried too hard to marry the old with the new. “My James Bond,” – because I seem to have developed a personal stake in the Daniel Craig films – “would never make caddy references to predecessors and grin at that camera while doing it,” I declared. Spectre, the James Bond film that debuted a week ago today, better balances Craig’s darker take on the British super spy with references to previous films and classic ropes. Plus there’s romance, so much romance.

Exposition is the point of Spectre. Everything in this film is held together by revelations and character surprises. These character surprises don’t exactly make you long for the days of Bond action films gone by. They do service as eternal context, a chance for you to look over at lesser Bond aficionados and shamelessly explain every reference like you have no social life outside of franchise reruns on Spike TV and Syfy Channel.

Mallory, Moneypenny, murders & mayhem

Craig’s Bond doesn’t exactly place a lot of emphasis on the chain of command or listening to Mallory, the head of MI6 following the events of Skyfall. Along for the ride are Eve Moneypenny (Naomi Harries)  and Ben Wishaw as Q. Bond has gone off on his own, keeping the British agency in the dark as he goes after a new target. James isn’t one for making personal statements, opting to do anything and everything to achieve his ends in the loudest way possible. His actions at a Day of the Dead festival set him on a collision course again with the British government and Mallory, who’s not exactly Bond’s biggest fan to begin with.

Spectre controls everything wrong with the world, from sex trafficking to questionable happenings in the global economy. It’s at this point that I started to make a list of the themes in this movie. Corporate espionage and criminal underworld? Both are present and accounted for.

Falling with style

Before the end of the movie you’ll check off revenge and finesse, the other two critical parts of the James Bond formula. There’s a fifth, but that one isn’t worth spoiling in these pages.

Spectre’s cinematography is spectacular. Every location is shown its full glory. Visuals are offered up as if expensive steak on a plate for theater goes to devour with both hands. The film opens with a continuous shot with no editing. Before cutting to another scene, Bond has managed to knock down a building, flirt with a companion and kick off Spectre’s plot. It is possibly the finest scene in a Bond film. Certainly, it’s the best of the Craig era films. Sometimes Bond films can have a little too much action and not enough substance. This film leans heavy on the action early on, but goes in the other direct soon enough.

This film trades on the idea that governments are willing to do anything it takes to stop the global war on terrorism, even if that means throwing away citizens personal rights and abdicating responsibility for what happens next. Andrew Scott’s character serves as information collector and a symbol of what can happen when bureaucracy runs amok. In a way, his Denbigh is a stand in for every egghead that thinks technology can solve every problem. He’s the anti-Mallory, an opportunity for actor Ralph Fiennes to sulk and celebrate for the camera. Batista is Mr. Hinx, always quiet and always just a step ahead of Bond.

The car chases, the humor all work in Spectre. I only wish that the writing itself was tighter. Nothing in life drives me crazier than someone looking to say something profound and failing at it. Good film making requires subtly, I say. Sometimes this movie fails at it in a way I previously thought only George Lucas films could. In a scene that should speak to the audience without exposition, Moneypenny speculates that “Bond has a secret.” She adds that this is a “secret that he can’t tell anyone because he doesn’t trust them.” If you were in a Bow Tie Cinema last weekend and heard someone laughing uncontrollably, that was me. Next time, introduce yourself.

Spectre has everything that you could want in a Bond film. Gratuitous violence, shady government agencies, an unstoppable womanizer who murders for queen and country. It’s better than Skyfall in that it manages to do some fan service while not going overboard. The writing doesn’t do a great job of selling a budding new romance in the series, but I’m a sucker for a great love story anyway. Some lazy writing aside, I’d say it’s the second best movie in the Craig Bond saga.

Spectre is still in theaters. It’s also available for pre-order in the Windows Store, iTunes Store and Amazon.